July turned to August. My departure for the West was fast approaching. And my cousins had yet to practice a long-lived tradition in that neck of woods – Rebgong.
A Tibetan custom, you are invited to a scrumptious meal, if you’ve returned from a journey, worked or studied a distance away, completed a long period of meditation, or you’ve recently visited a holy site like Lhasa. This ancient tradition is applied to extended family members, people from the same clan or village, as well as the family you choose for yourself – your friends. I remember my late grandmother repeated this ritual throughout her life. And now it’s our turn to continue.
To many, I was the girl who followed her loopy ideas and flew across the globe, instead of marrying at 15 and gathering yak dung. But, of course, whenever I travel home to the Tibetan highlands, I could always count on my people to line me up for lovely meals.
Knowing I would be traveling around for the remainder of my time in remote, historic areas or not, my cousins who live in Rebgong town (རེབ་གོང་རྫོང, Tongren officially) decided that we should gather for one meal at least although we had met at the family reunion weeks earlier.
Picnic at the Maixiu Virgin Forest sounded like music to my ears. I joined along with my brother and sister’s family. We enjoyed Mother Nature – everything growing, with evergreen trees standing tall covering vast mountains, shrubs hugging the ground, wildflowers showcasing their brightly colored faces. And we listened to the stream, gurgling down the valley whispering its song in the background. We ate Tibetan, Chinese and Hui (Muslim) food varieties, we picked wild strawberries, we danced, we joked, and we laughed. It was a picnic designed to be.
As we were calling it a day, I decided to put on a show. Whilst crossing the stream on nothing but a single, narrow beam, my unplanned, sudden splashing into the water was more than an amusing spectacle for my little nieces and nephew. Awakened by the crisp chill, I noticed my brother’s unsmiling face, frozen eyes and wide dropped jaws of the children. Now, hold that picture of the whole bash and imagine using it for this Halloween season. Yes.
My red wine-colored pants with every soft raised parallel line of the corduroy were soaked wet to my knees, sagging downwards as if they’d been tied to my son’s foot weights. Holding my flooded hiking shoes with sandy mixture, I walked barefoot through the flowered-grass field to the car, hoping the gentle, consistent pain in my right ankle wouldn’t mean twisted and would disappear before my trip to my nomadic roots the following morning.
Oh, dear cousins, we shall picnic again, but can you please save me?